In the summer of 2011, I boarded a plane for the first time to travel to the Jewish homeland, the state of Israel. A place of antiquity, wonder, and holiness for people all over the world. I didn’t quite know what to expect on my travels, so as I sat on the plane trying my hardest to imagine what it would be like, my mind conjured up images of milk and honey flowing through the ancient ruins of ancient ancestors who felt increasing closer with each passing minute of the plane ride. Somehow, I imagined that arriving in Israel would be like arriving home. Maybe it was at first, but the feeling didn’t last.
For five weeks, I lived in a convent, in the Muslim quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, with eight fellow Dickinson students and one Dickinson professor. Each morning we traversed the narrow, stone-cobbled streets of Jerusalem, traveling from each religious site to the next. Each day, I questioned more and more. At every religious site we visited, I felt not closer to G-d, but only farther and father away as I was literally pushed and shoved by hundreds of pilgrims, fighting their way through the crowds to view these miraculously mundane artifacts of religious antiquity. Every place, these pious pilgrims acted with the same impatience: the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, up and down the streets of the Old City. I observed the actions of everyone around me, and no one really seemed to be struck by the divine inspiration of the sights or sincerely humbled before the sacred buildings. So I began to see these magnificent places as simply places. Just another old building, another old church, another old wall. Before long, Israel, the place I had for so long constructed in my mind as the most wondrous, the most mystical, the most sacred place became just a place.
Each afternoon, I sat on the upper-most balcony of the convent at which we were staying, and surveyed the city. My eyes combed the sites of the Old City from afar, while the same question ran through my head, again and again: Why?
Why do so many people place such significant importance on a place? Why do we fight over these places, which at the end of it, are merely places. While I thoroughly understood the religious and historical importance of the sites and the city of Jerusalem, I still couldn’t comprehend, after the thousands of years the city had seen, why it continued, why we all couldn’t just come up with an all-encompassing compromise?
This experience in Israel was truly life changing. Before trip, I thought the little bit I knew about the Arab-Israeli Conflict from watching CNN and other American media, was enough to form an opinion. My Jewish upbringing taught me to support Israel, always. Which in retrospect, seems paradoxical for a tradition which praises the asking of questions. Yes, in Judaism it seems you are able to question everything… everything except the actions of the state of Israel.
Ever since my stay in the Old City, my outlook on the Arab-Israeli conflict (and even Judaism, but that’s for a different blog) has been significantly different. Even now, after seeing the conflict up close and personal on an alternative tour of the Israeli settlements and of Palestinian villages, after meeting an eighty-five year old Palestinian women who had days before been forcibly removed from her home to accommodate Jewish settlers, after praying at the Western Wall, after reading the Torah, after learning about Israel in Sunday morning Hebrew school, and after studying the Arab-Israeli conflict in various different classes at Dickinson, my perspective of the conflict, of Israel and Palestine, of the Jewish and Palestinian peoples, is in constant fluctuation. I can’t honestly say that I have comprehensive, sincere opinion of the conflict. At the same time, the Arab-Israeli Conflict, is something that I can’t stop thinking about.
I find myself traveling back to the upper-most balcony of the convent every once in awhile, and scanning the skyline of the Old City, searching for something, an answer perhaps, to the conflict at large, and the conflict in my mind.
This is why I chose to research the Arab-Israeli Conflict. I chose to view it through both an environmental and a conflict resolution lens in order to gain a different perspective on the conflict. I’ve only skimmed the surface of conflict resolution theory, but I am already perceiving the Arab-Israeli conflict in an entirely different way than before I began this research project. Already, I feel that I’ve got a better understanding of the nature of conflict and the significance of power. Before reading the articles on Conflict and Conflict resolution suggested to me by Professor Staub, the psychological aspects of this field (and phenomena) had never previously occurred to me. I’d thought a lot about the Arab-Israeli Conflict, but I never once focused my attention on the various ways the conflict is framed or what factors contribute to decision-making in negotiations and relations between conflicting states (and nations). I’ve found myself thinking about the importance and centrality of power, defined by Deutsch (1973) “as a relational concept functioning between the person and his or her environment,” (Coleman, 111) in both the context of the conflict and in the context of my own life.
What I find most fascinating about my research so far, is how applicable these theories and perspectives are to everyday circumstances and interactions between people and groups. I found myself, at times, frustrated that the concepts of conflict and conflict resolution were not difficult to comprehend, yet seemingly impossible to effectively apply to conflicts, especially large ones like the Arab-Israeli conflict. I hope that throughout my reading, I am able to better understand the intricacies of peace-talks and negotiations, particularly those involving resource management and sharing.
This week, I am switching my focus of readings strictly from conflict resolution theory to environmental conflict. I am very glad that I’ve had this background reading in conflict and conflict resolution theory, before I begin to delve into this specific type of conflict.